Suffering for your gods is your only purpose.
Gorr, the person who became the God Butcher in Marvel’s 2022 movie Thor: Love and Thunder, inadvertently said something more profound than what he perhaps intended.
Let’s take a step back to where Gorr’s bitterness, resentment and hatred of the gods all started.
Spoiler alert! In this post, I will discuss some details of the movie during these musings.
The movie’s opening scene: a man, parched and dusty, travels the desert in a world where most people have died of hunger, thirst, or heat exhaustion. He seems to be the last man left, and wandering with him, looking for food and shelter, is his little daughter; dirty-faced, sad-eyed, rapidly running out of her little life’s reserves and on her way to certain death. That is if something or someone does not come to her aid very soon.
The something or someone never came. The little girl dies in her dad’s arms.
The dad is heartbroken and buries his daughter in the blistering sun. He is close to death himself, but for some reason, he stumbles upon an oasis where he finds shade in the lush green flora, clean, fresh water from a stream, and a bouquet of fresh fruit – delicious and inviting. As he immerses himself in the stream, drinks from the water and digs into the fruit, he hears a voice. The voice is irreverent and, with disdain, complains about the man eating his food. The man looks up and sees where the voice is coming from – it is coming from Rapu, a god. His god. The one he has served all his life faithfully. Rapu is the one the man has been praying to for guidance and deliverance throughout his ordeal in the baking desert.
To no avail.
The man, the dad, the one called Gorr, immediately enters into a worshipful state when he sees Rapu. But Rapu ridicules him, laughs at him, and brushes off Gorr’s silly attempts at worship and admiration. Rapu demands death and declares there is no reward after death, no such thing as a heavenly state for his followers to enter into. And it is at this point that we learn why Gorr spits out these words later in the story.
Suffering for your gods is your only purpose. – Gorr
Gorr just might have a point.
The human race’s ideas about God, gods, deities, supernatural beings, spiritual entities, and The Force have both changed and stayed the same over millennia. Sometimes society and culture predispose a community to think about gods as upper beings forming part of a pantheon, like in the Greek and Norse mythologies. Sometimes they are predisposed to believe in a single god and that no other gods physically exist. Other times they believe there is a single god who created all and that there are lesser beings with some role to play.
In modern times, many communities believe that gods are archaic and just a relic of the past – an old-fashioned idea for weak people who do not want to face whatever reality makes part of their existence by themselves. This, too, is a kind of god—the reliance on the Self. But anyway, let’s change the language from “gods we worship” to “things we pursue”. Viewing it from this angle can put a spotlight on what we feel is most important and worthy of spending time, money and resources on.
All of us, whether religious in the traditional sense or not, have a base philosophy from which we operate. The angle from where we look at the world, try to make sense of it, depend upon for decisions, and draw upon for direction. This framework informs our ideas about good or bad, life’s purpose, sin and solutions to problems. Arguably all of us, regardless of creed, will find resonance in one or more worldviews in the table below because it is very much ingrained into our current modern lifestyles.
Some believe in Science, pitching it against “gods” who the human senses can not explore. Others might believe in money, not overtly so, but expending resources to obtain more of it with a commitment matching the most religious devotees. Or what about the people you love, your family or those close to you? Might you be putting them on too high a pedestal?
The point is people will suffer for these gods. They will sacrifice their relationships with their wives or children in pursuit of power or promotion, cash or credibility, identity or immorality. Perhaps they offer up their health and personal well-being, trading it for the false promises of one day being able to “live the dream”. Often this is not even intentional, but many find themselves trapped in a web of societal expectation, financial debt, and never-ending comparison in pursuit of their identity.
As King Solomon perceived long ago…
I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbour. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 4:4
Gorr, it seems, was right.
But let’s go back a bit to when Yahweh declared himself to Abraham and started the Israelite race. Back then, many gods were being worshipped around the globe.
In Egypt, for example, more than 2000 gods were worshipped (although only about 100 were honoured nationally). The Pharaoh, or king of Egypt, was seen as either the incarnation or at least representative of Horus. When he died, several of his servants would go to the grave with him to care for their master in the afterlife. This concept is called retainer sacrifice, and those who were fortunate enough to die with their god incarnation were either strangled to death or poisoned with cyanide before being added to the tomb.
Chemosh was the chief deity worshipped by the Moabites in Canaan, and he welcomed human sacrifice. During a battle between the Moabites and Israel, the Moabite king sacrificed his son, the Crown Prince, who was to reign in his place, as a burnt offering on the city wall to gain favour and to try to elicit help from their god (2 Kings 3:27)
In another Biblical example, the Baal prophets raved the whole day, dancing, pleading and “cutting themselves with swords and spears until the blood flowed” to evoke a reaction from their god. They suffered physically and mentally. They also suffered embarrassment when they were ignored while Elijah’s prayer was answered. God sent flames to consume the bull on the altar and the water used to douse it.
Gorr, it seems, was right.
Those aware of our family’s current trials whilst solidifying our membership in the C-Club (part 1, part 2, part 3 might conclude that “suffering for your god” is as accurate for Christians as it is for anybody else.
Those who follow Jesus Christ are certainly not spared from the hardships of life, whether that includes sickness or death, violence (gender-based or otherwise), unfair treatment at work, discrimination or anything else that pretty much all of us experience at some point or another. Some within our Christian circles believe that life here on earth should already be equated to life as it would be in heaven (or, more correctly, the new earth) – without suffering, sickness and pain. There are several names for this thinking, for example, Kingdom Now, Triumphalism, or Word of Faith. A central theme is that if we suffer in this life, it is because there is a lack of faith or a hidden sin that needs repenting or just ignorance on the part of the believer in that there are benefits available to the Christ follower that they are just aware of.
Ronel and I have been a part of groups like these to some extent in the past, and we’re sympathetic to the intentions behind these thoughts. But we don’t believe this, mainly because we think it is essentially a form of eisegesis. We read in the Scriptures that suffering and hardships should not surprise us. It will be part of our walk with Him, sometimes in spite of the fact that we follow him and sometimes because of it.
Although we read that Jesus and the Apostles healed many people miraculously, we also see many prayers for healing or avoidance of hardships answered in the negative.
We read of Job, who lost his health, wealth and large portions of his family. His fortunes were restored later, but the suffering he had to endure was not taken away from him at the time of his prayers. He needed to complete a much larger quest, unbeknownst to him at the time, of (amongst other things) teaching billions of people after him how to trust God and stay patiently obedient when not understanding what was going on in the higher planes of God’s existence with that memorable line:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” – Job 1:21
The Apostle Paul
We read of the Apostle Paul, who asked for the thorn in his side three times to be taken away. Today we still don’t know for sure what that thorn was, but God’s answer to him was that:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. – 2 Corinthians 12:9
We can deduce from Paul’s writings that the thorn he so desperately wanted to get rid of indeed added a level of depth, dependence and vulnerability to his ministry, making him a much better teacher and mentor to those around him and billions more after his death.
James explicitly tells us we will go through hardships and trials. He does not mince words when he tells us to…
“Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” – James 1:3
We even get a direct lesson from Jesus himself. The night before his crucifixion, he repeatedly prayed that God would spare him the suffering and pain on the cross. Yet he ended each prayer with “your will be done”. Even though he was the Son of God, he trusted that God the Father, during his show of human vulnerability, would see through their plan, which was forged by all the persons of the Trinity (Jesus included) from the beginning of time.
The Father did not ignore the Son’s requests. Instead, he answered in the negative. This episode in Scripture forms the basis of a crucial piece of theology for Christ’s followers. His death was the only vehicle through which humankind could be redeemed from their sins and be reconciled to the Father. The perfect sacrifice, someone without blemish, takes the punishment for Sin and makes redemption available to anyone who believes. If it were not so, the Father would have easily approved Jesus’ request.
In a reversal of Gorrian logic (yes, I just made up that word), it is the God who suffers for his followers.
Gorr is starting to stumble.
Sometimes we hear stories about people losing their faith after a personal tragedy. Others wonder how Christians can hang onto their faith when disasters happen, especially if God could have prevented them.
Isn’t this reason enough to abandon the thought of a loving God? Shouldn’t we accept the idea that we’re actually all in this alone?
At this point, we should ask a few questions about what the Bible actually teaches. For example, where does it say that:
- your life will be without trouble or hardship?
- God will make your life easier by taking away anything that could be linked to suffering or pain?
- you’re a “child of the king”, and the kingdom is now, and we’re entitled to the benefits that come with that title right now?
- all sickness will always be cured?
- Christians will live forever in their current bodies on this earth?
Of course, some of these questions are slightly facetious if asked bluntly like this. But this is where “faith in faith” becomes a substitute for “faith in God”. Many people are disillusioned and surprised when reality does not strike with their own, often eisogenic, beliefs about how things should work.
The Bible does cover the questions we asked above. We read that
- we will face many trials and tribulations (James 1:3). Still, God will be there with us, close with a presence often only felt when there is a genuine hardship to be endured (Philippians 4:7). He will never allow anything to happen to us beyond what we can bare (1 Corinthians 10:13).
- God will not make life easier by taking away suffering and pain but that he will grow and teach us in the process of suffering to our ultimate benefit and His glory (James 1:3)
- Christians are indeed children of God, and God is the King of Kings, and that his Kingdom was inaugurated when Jesus came to earth the first time but will only be wholly established during the Second Coming. The “already but not yet” teachings of the Kingdom theme in Scripture (Matthew 16:27)
- sometimes God will heal and miraculously extend a person’s life, like Hezekiah’s in 2 Kings 20:1-11, or countless others who have received this gift from the Lord, but that he often also does not grant those requests and in his wisdom make that work out to the ultimate benefit of those who follow him (2 Corinthians 12:9)
- that we are taught that this life is transient, that we are sojourners, travellers, temporary citizens of this place called earth – part of God’s creation and for us to live life to the full, but to keep an eternal perspective and to remember that our bodies are tents (2 Corinthians 5:1), only to carry us until the point of death or the event of Jesus’ return at which point we will get our renewed, glorified bodies to be lived in during the rest of eternity (1 Thessalonians 4:16)
The Grobler family’s mantra
These are the Biblical teachings which we, as the Grobler family, firmly keep in mind during the time of trial. Some days are more emotional than others, sometimes the harsh realities of what might still lie in front of us are more top of mind than others, and some days we almost forget that we’re in the trenches right now. Sometimes we’re scared of what will happen during the medical procedures, whether we can sustain another round of chemotherapy, or how we might need to adjust during different stages of the disease.
But one thing we can attest to is the thing that has become our mantra: one day at a time. One day at a time, God shows us the way. One day at a time, God creates a “chance” encounter with someone who shares wisdom. One day at a time, a friend sends a message of love or encouragement. One day at a time, the bliss of being absent-minded regarding the C-Club membership and enjoying the views from the Tygervalley Mountain Bike trials. One day at a time, the smell of the clean Western Cape air on the open road on the back of a motorcycle. One day at a time, the privilege of creating music or getting lost in thought whilst restoring an old piece of furniture. One day at a time, the joys of having two teenage kids in our home with all the colour, discoveries and challenges it brings (you read right – joys!).
One day at a time, strength for the next step.
One day at a time, the awareness of the temporary nature of our earthly existence and the importance of figuring out what is essential in life.
Cliches – until they’re not.
George MacDonald once said
“The Son of God suffered unto death, not that man might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like his”
And how was his suffering? It was not alone; the Father was always close by. It was not without purpose; it always served a goal. It was never in vain; it always had a good and far-reaching outcome. It was sacrificial, with others in mind, subservient and subject to God’s ways and thoughts, and made all the more remarkable because Jesus the Son is himself, God.
This is why the gospel of Love and Thunder is largely true – suffering for your gods is your only purpose.
That is if your god is not the God of the Bible.
Gorr, it seems, was (only partially) right.